Toronto
3 min

Homo field advantage

Are the Blue Jays really reaching out?

NO OUTS. Watch American League 2002 rookie of the year Eric Hinske try to blow one out of the park at the Jays' Fri, Jun 25 Pride game. Expect a lot of popped flys along the way. Credit: Xtra files

There is a marketing strategy that I remember from my distant career in advertising, the concept of “perceived change.” The idea is to present something as new and improved without changing the product. An example is a current television ad for a well-known coffee brand, now in the “aroma seal container.” Thank goodness, they finally licked that leaky aroma problem. It’s different, but hardly progress.



The Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t, and to their credit, didn’t promise to field a contending team in 2004. So, what did they do? They changed the packaging. Long gone is the friendly looking Blue Jay. Gone too is the distinctly Canadian red maple leaf. In is a new logo – a fearsome bird, protruding from the word “Jays”, in three-dimensional lettering of blue, metallic silvers and graphite with black and white accents (yuck). The whole effect is meant to convey a dynamic urban team on the rise.



The Blue Jays are also trying to rebuild a fan base, eroded by faded memories of two World Series wins and the baseball strike of 1994. Part of that process entails trying to entice non-traditional or previously overlooked members of the community to come to the ballpark. On Fri, Jun 25 (beginning at 7pm) at SkyDome, the Blue Jays will hold the first-ever Pride Day with the Blue Jays, an official Pride Week event. The Jays are playing the Montreal Expos, with two sections set aside for homos. Part of the proceeds, the $1.25 service charge per ticket, will go to support Pride Toronto. Queer As Folk’s Sharon Gless will throw out the first pitch, Love Inc’s Simone Denny will sing the national anthems and Olympic gold medalist and co-president of OutGames Montreal 2006 Mark Tewksbury will help the Jays present a donation cheque to Pride Toronto.



While there have been similar events at some ballparks in the US, this is the first time that a professional Toronto sports team has publicly recognized its queer fans. I guess the Jays are hoping for a little homo field advantage (couldn’t resist). This is a marriage (or is it a civil union?) that has some appeal. Baseball is a (mostly) nonviolent sport with a touch of elegance to it, and a night at the ballpark is a leisurely, social affair. At the very least, it might liven up the SkyDome where the fans can look like the patients in Awakenings – eyes glazed, staring straight ahead, but still able to catch a ball.



The Jays deserve some credit here. Yes, it is a marketing initiative, but they are also trying to send a positive message. One has to wonder, though, while this event demonstrates a level of openness to the gay community as fans, how would the Blue Jays or Major League baseball react to an openly gay player? Currently there is not one on any of the 30 teams. The closest we come is former outfielder Billy Bean and former umpire Dave Pallone – who both came out after retiring.



As a reflection of its times, baseball has always been full of contradictions, often obstinately out of step, then surprisingly progressive. When Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 it changed the game profoundly, bringing many new fans to the Major Leagues. Maybe a gay ballplayer would do the same thing. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As Bette Davis said in Now, Voyager: “Don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.”



Speaking of stars, this is not like the glory years, when the Jays won back-to-back World Series and had an all-star at almost every position. This is a young team put together on a tight budget, with the promise of better times ahead. Unfortunately, the better times were last season. After exceeding expectations in ’03, the Jays have fallen well short in ’04. Injuries are a problem. This team has to score a lot of runs in order to win, and their two best run producers are out (hurt out, not out out). Home-run hitter and runner-up for last year’s American League MVP Carlos Delgado might be back in time for the Pride game, but silky smooth centre fielder Vernon Wells will not be. It is too bad because Wells, the team’s best all-around player, is a terrific hitter and graceful outfielder who is worth the price of admission (if not the overpriced concessions).



The Jays still have Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in the American League last year, if not of all baseball. They’ve also got second baseman and rising star Orlando Hudson and 2002’s AL rookie of the year Eric Hinske.



The Blue Jays are looking to the future and, hopefully, in that future we can look forward to this event spreading to more baseball stadiums. It’s different. Is it progress? I guess that depends on your perception.



* Tickets for the Fri, Jun 25 Pride game can be purchased at reduced prices at the SkyDome box office or by calling the Blue Jays Fanline at (416) 341-1234; ask for the gay and lesbian community section, or quote discount code PRIDE04. On-line, go to Gaybaseballdays.com.